A Miserable Blunder: The Shooting of Henry Johnson

      On December 25, 1915, Henry Johnson was on his way home from his job at a Dallas post office annex when he was killed by a single gunshot wound to the chest. The shooter was Special Officer John C. Cason. At the time of his death, Johnson was not committing a crime, and there was no warrant out for his arrest. He was shot at the corner of Colonial and Forest Avenues.

      Henry Johnson was around 52 years old at the time of his death,[1] and was an employee of the Dallas Post Office of over three years, working as a manual laborer in the annex at 100 N. Ervay St.,[2] which is now the Mercantile Bank building across from Neiman Marcus. The post office was busy during December, with employees working extra shifts that sometimes lasted until 3:00 a.m. On the night of his death, Johnson worked until around 2:35 a.m. He called his wife before he left work, telling her that he was heading home for the night and would be bringing fruit and packages for Christmas. Johnson was near his home around 3:45 a.m. when he was seen by Officer Cason.

      No witnesses ever came forward to corroborate Officer Cason’s statements – the following description of the event comes from what Cason reported to Chief of Police J. W.  Ryan as reported by The Dallas Morning News.[3]

      Officer Cason reported that he was standing in the doorway of a restaurant in the back of Green’s Drug Store at 1700 Forest Avenue.[4] He saw Johnson standing on the sidewalk near the entry of an alley. While staying within the shadows, Cason called out to Johnson and told him to stop. Johnson continued to walk to his destination, either not hearing or ignoring Cason’s orders. Cason rushed to the opposite side of Colonial Ave. in order to block Johnson’s path, indicating that Johnson was walking south on Colonial Ave.[5] Cason told Johnson that he was an officer, and at that point he showed his badge as proof as Johnson stopped. Cason reported that he saw a white bundle in Johnson’s left arm, and his right hand in his pocket. Cason asked about the contents of Johnson’s bundle and what he was doing out that night. According to Cason, this is how Johnson responded:

      “It’s none of your business, and none of your business where I am going, and none of your business who I work for. I am getting tired of being held up by these police officers.”

      Cason ordered Johnson to put his hands up several times, but Johnson refused. Cason told Johnson that he was under arrest, but Johnson refused to go anywhere with Cason. Johnson continued to walk south toward his home, directly into Cason’s path. Cason brought out his gun and threatened to shoot Johnson if he didn’t stop, but Johnson kept walking. Cason fired a single shot at Johnson, striking him through the heart and killing him instantly. Cason called for backup from a local call-box, and arriving officers found Johnson dead at the scene. The inquest record for Johnson notes that Cason was not arrested that night, but he did have to make an official statement to Chief of Police J. W. Ryan.

      A small pocket knife, a few small trinkets, and a bit of food were found on Johnson’s body.

      Ballard M. Burgher was the postmaster of Dallas,[6] and met with the police shortly after he learned about Johnson’s death. Ballard told the police that “somebody had made a miserable blunder” in killing Johnson. The night of Johnson’s death, he spoke about the Johnson’s character and the work that the post office was dealing with during the holidays. Ballard explained that Johnson was an employee of good standing, and well-liked by his coworkers. The post office employees were working overtime during the Christmas holiday, sometimes until 3:00 a.m., in order to completely sort out the mail. Ballard was quoted in The Dallas Morning News regarding his feelings toward Johnson and his death[7]:

      “I can not believe he would have harmed anyone. His bullet-pierced heart prevents his lips from telling his story, but I feel sure it was not necessary to kill him.”

      Dallas police officials described Cason as reliable, and that they believed that Cason would not have shot a suspect unless he truly felt his life was in danger.                 

      On December 31, 1915, six days after the death of Johnson, the grand jury of Dallas submitted a “no bill” to Judge Robert Blake Seay of the Criminal District Court.[8] This meant that Officer Cason would not be tried for the death of Johnson, and that there would be no further investigation of the event. Cason would work in the Dallas Police Department until 1916 and died of natural causes in 1934.[9] As of the publication of this document, there are no documents indicating that Cason was ever officially reprimanded for killing Johnson.

       Judge Seay served as criminal district judge from 1908 until 1922 and died in 1928. Local courts adjourned for a day to memorialize his passing.[10] Ballard Burgher served as postmaster of Dallas from 1913 to 1921. He was a prominent Dallas citizen and served on the City Board of Education for four years and died in 1925.[11] J. W. Ryan served as chief of police from 1909 to 1921, and under his leadership the police department was headquartered at City Hall on 106 S. Harwood street, and the police force grew from around 88 officers to over 130.[12]

       Johnson’s remains are buried in Woodland Cemetery, which joined with the adjacent Hillside Cemetery to create the L. Butler Nelson Cemetery at 2900 Hatcher St.[13]

       In 1981, Forest Ave. was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.[14]


Endnotes

[1] Henry Johnson, death certificate, 25 Dec. 1915, file no. 26291, Texas State Department of Health

[2] Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. Dallas, Tex. Vol. 1, sheet 11. 1922. http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/sanborn/d.html#D

[3]Henry Johnson Shot by Special Officer: Bullet Enters Above Heart and Death Is Almost Instantaneous,” The Dallas Morning News, December 26, 1915.

[4] Worley’s City Directory: Dallas. 1915. 138.

[5] Sanborn’s Fire Insurance Co. Dallas, Tex. Vol. 2, sheet 440. 1922. http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/maps/sanborn/d.html#D

[6]Ballard M. Burgher Is Now Postmaster.” The Dallas Morning News, May 23, 1915.

[7] “Henry Johnson Shot by Special Officer: Bullet Enters Above Heart and Death Is Almost Instantaneous,” The Dallas Morning News, December 26, 1915.

[8] “Officer Cason Exonerated.” The Dallas Morning News, January 1, 1916.

[9] John C. Cason, death certificate, 9 Aug. 1934, file no. 35933, Texas State Department of Health

[10] “Judge R. B. Seay Is Laid to Rest.” The Dallas Morning News, April 7, 1928.

[11] “Funeral Is Held for B. M. Burgher.” The Dallas Morning News, January 25, 1925.

[12] Dallas Police Department. Vol. 6. Dallas Police Department. 24.

[13] Henry Johnson, death certificate, 25 Dec. 1915, file no. 26291, Texas State Department of Health. Dallas Landmark Commission Landmark Nomination Form, L. Butler Nelson Cemetery, December 6, 2007, with revisions January 1, 2008.

[14] Henry Tatum, “Name Passes After Yelling Match” The Dallas Morning News, April 9, 1981

Images

Death Certificate for Henry Johnson

Death Certificate for Henry Johnson

This is the death certificate for Henry Johnson. This document contains information about his cause of death, approximate age, undertaker, place of burial, and other information regarding his background. | Source: Familysearch.com | Creator: Dallas County, Texas State Board of Health: Bureau of Vital Statistics View File Details Page

Post Office at Ervay and Commerce

Post Office at Ervay and Commerce

Location of Henry Johnson's work place, Post Office at Ervay and Commerce | Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. Sanborn Map Company, 1899. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08492_004/>. | Creator: Sanborn Map Company View File Details Page

Location of the post office where Henry Johnson worked.  | Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. Sanborn Map Company, Apr, 1885. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/sanborn08492_001/>. | Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. View File Details Page

1922 Map of Colonial Ave., Dallas

1922 Map of Colonial Ave., Dallas

Intersection of Colonial Ave. and Forest Ave., giving an idea of the location of Cason and Johnson during this incident | Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Co. View File Details Page

City directory shows the location of Green™s Drug Store on Forest Ave., at the rear of which Cason claims he was standing when he saw Johnson. | Source: Ancestrylibrary.com | Creator: Worley™s City Directory Co. View File Details Page

Street Address:

1700 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.,
Dallas, Texas [map]

Cite this Page:

Priscilla Escobedo, “A Miserable Blunder: The Shooting of Henry Johnson,” Human Rights Dallas Maps, accessed October 14, 2019, http://humanrightsdallasmaps.com/items/show/21.

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